Akan Peter Nsek: Navigating Legacy, Innovation and Quality in the Food Industry

In this interview, the Managing Director of Amel International Services Limited (AISL), also known as Amel Susan, Akan Peter Nsek, discusses how the company has established a legacy in the Nigerian food industry through innovation and quality service delivery. Sunday Ehigiator brings excerpt

What inspired the humble beginnings of Amel International Services Limited, and how did the company overcome its early challenges?

My brother and I, with the support of our sisters, felt it was time to ‘come back home’ and ‘step into our father’s shoes’ to take the business he had started in the late 80s to the next level.

We experienced first-hand, how hard our father had worked to keep the business going in the harsh economic realities of the ’90s’ into the early 2000s, and felt it was right to reward his hard work with the support and expertise we could bring into the business from our different fields of experience.

The company needed to be reborn to achieve this, and that rebirth gave birth to Amel International Services Ltd. We were starting afresh from a newly acquired property – An old abandoned bakery in Ejigbo.

As funds were limited, offices were constructed with plywood partitions, wooden tables and chairs from recycled wood and barely two fairly used desktop computers and no printer.

The Amel Susan brand is transgenerational. How was the transition to managing products founded by your father like for you and your siblings and how did it impact the company’s vision and strategy?

When we took over the business from our father, it was important to sieve out the shaft from the seeds, and as you can imagine, convincing a 75-year-old man to drop products he has had in the stable for years was near impossible.

But we needed to be objective. We looked at customer/user feedback, sales trends, product composition and formulation, and other intrinsic indices to determine which products should stay and which should be phased out. The new company’s vision was simple – Quality Products Always and we live by that creed.

Do you feel pressure taking on such a responsibility of continuing what your father started?

Every single day! Our father ran his business from 1988/89 up until 2014, and even with all the challenges he faced, he never gave up. So, with that as an inspiration, and the speed of success we have had in just 10 years, I have no excuse to give up.

How has your leadership impacted the company’s growth and success since taking the helm?

It has been a sharp learning curve for me. Even though I held a few leadership positions in my career before coming to AISL, it is still a surreal experience every single day.

I make mistakes; I consult with my mentors and superiors from my previous employment. These support systems have helped me grow as a leader and I see the impact on my teams and how they honour me with understanding and loyalty. I feel the same emotions with my partners, suppliers and customers.

What prompted the discontinuation of some products like baking powder in 2015 and the introduction of new products?

Very simply, the hunger for consistency and perfection in products we have to release. If we cannot guarantee the quality every single time; whether in raw material inputs or production process, we will discontinue it.

Also, with the feedback process we have in place, we can learn about what products our customers want and we would do our research and development on them, decide on production and bring them to market. We have successfully done that with Non-dairy creamer and 3 in 1 Milk Custard in recent times… We have a few more in the pipeline.

How did Amel Susan expand its market presence across Nigeria, and what plans are in place for further expansion?

We worked with distribution partners and dealers across the country – including modern Trade outlets/supermarkets, and with the help of social media and the internet, we were able to communicate the presence of these agents to final consumers.

We are replicating the same model outside Nigeria – We have successfully secured a distributor/buyer in the US and we are in advanced talks with contacts in the UK, Ghana, Sierra Leone, Gambia and other West African markets.

How does Amel Susan balance innovation with customer satisfaction, and what does customer feedback play in product development?

Amel Susan is nothing without its customers. So, if we don’t listen to them, we will be on our way to extinction. Every product in our range is developed by our internal R&D and vetted by you, the Customer.

If customers do not like the sample size, we will rework the formulation till it matches their acceptable quality standards before we launch the product. This is a process we learned from our father.

How does Amel Susan prioritise sustainability and collaboration in its operations and supply chain management?

We go through a rigorous vetting process to select all production inputs. Their processes, certifications, GMP, etc Samples are provided for our analysis before any raw material can be brought in.

This guarantees consistency in our quality parameters. Internally, we go through the same process from department to department before the final output. And even with our customers (Dealers, transporters, supermarkets) we carry out periodic inspections to check the storage conditions of the products they have purchased from us and we constantly sensitise them on best storage practices to ensure the final consumers get the highest quality of our products, wherever they buy from.

What strategies have contributed to Amel Susan’s recognition as a market leader in the food and beverage industry, and how does the company plan to maintain this position?

Without letting out any trade secrets, commitment to quality internally and externally has been our watchword. We also ensure consistency and an emotional connection to our brand with our audience and across all stakeholders.

What significance does the construction of the two-storey factory building and the acquisition of an adjacent land hold for the company’s future?

We improved output capacity to meet the ever-growing demand. We have been under tremendous demand pressure over the last couple of years. Even after the initial expansion project, it felt like we only scratched the surface.

Demand continued to grow and now, we have to keep expanding, especially as we look to take on new foreign markets.

How does the Amel Susan brand address changing consumer preferences and adapt to evolving market trends?

Because we are constantly in touch with our dealerships and customers, this is a breeze for us.

We get first-hand feedback through all of our channels across social media, feedback forms, dealerships, etc. and we are committed to troubleshooting and adapting to the needs of the market.

What impact have some of the awards and recognition such as being listed as one of the fastest growing companies in Africa for 2024 by the Financial Times, the Go Global Awards by The International Trade Council etc, had on the company?

It has brought about exposure and new partnerships on the international stage. We were recently directly invited on an all-expense paid trip to some West African countries by the Governments of those countries through their Ministries of Trade and Investment.

We have also been approached by several local and foreign investors who are eager to identify with us and invest in the business as a direct result of the recognition we have gotten from these prestigious independent organisations in the last two years.

How is Amel Susan contributing to the food and beverage industry in West Africa?

We are actively seeking collaboration and partnerships with investors and dealers across the West African coast.

We have come to realise that most of our neighbouring economies are largely import-dependent to a much higher degree than here in Nigeria, and our mission is to see how we can mitigate that by providing our brands as substitutes to those imported from Europe and Asia. Let’s be our brothers’ keeper. Let Africans grow Africa.

What initiatives have Amel Susan implemented to support local communities and promote social responsibility?

We have several CSR campaigns targeted at different customer groups. We have the Building Better Bakers initiative which is designed to support young bakers in training with renowned facilitators inside and outside the country by offering scholarships, products, and baking equipment during such campaigns.

We also engage in Back to School campaigns where we visit primary and secondary schools and provide them with our delicious treats and educational materials. We visit orphanages as well.

During fasting, we visit the mosques around our neighbourhood in the evenings to make them our delicious custard which they can use to break their fast. There are several other initiatives which might be too much to mention here.

What role does technology play in Amel Susan’s operations, and how has the company leveraged innovation to streamline processes and improve efficiency?

The role of technology in any business cannot be over-emphasized. We have ERP systems in place which help us manage our inventory and accounting processes.

We have CRM systems which help us in managing customer databases, sales processing and feedback.

We also collaborate with third-party service providers to manage our digital/online space from Social Media to e-commerce marketplaces. Without these systems in place, our operations would be so haphazard and chaotic to manage.

How does it feel to celebrate a decade of business operation in Nigeria’s volatile economy?

It is fulfilling and encouraging at the same time. It is a testament to how cultured, diligent and dynamic we have been in managing our operations. Whatever the world throws at us, we are capable of riding the tide and coming out on top. The dedicated team we have just makes that so easy for us.

What legacy do you hope to leave at Amel International Services Limited, and what vision do you have for the company’s future?

We are building a global brand as organically as possible, ensuring the culture of its founders is enshrined in how we operate 50 to 100 years from now.

With production and distribution sites in different countries across Africa and the world, we will stand tall as one of the few African multigenerational family businesses to come out of Africa.

What advice would you give to aspiring entrepreneurs and business leaders in the food and beverage industry, and what are your greatest lessons throughout your career trajectory?

Stay true to who you are inside. You can have mentors that you look up to for advice and guidance to learn from, but be careful not to copy them. Be original, be unique. Learn and adapt your strategies to fit your present realities and goals.

Monitor the competition, but do not be threatened or intimidated by them. Their story is not your story, so stay the course and keep evolving your internal systems to be better than you were the day before.

Engage with your customers always to get quality feedback that you can use to better your business and products. Don’t be put down by challenges that may come your way, always look for the silver lining and ride the tide.

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